Pitchfork Ranch

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A restored cookhouse from the Pitchfork is displayed in Lubbock at the National Ranching Heritage Center.

The Pitchfork Ranch, established in 1883, encompasses more than 180,000 acres in Dickens and King counties in West Texas and an annex in Jefferson County in southern Oklahoma. Previous properties in Kansas and Wyoming have been since sold.[1]

Officially the Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company of St. Louis, Missouri, the ranch runs commercial Angus and Herefords as well as the cross-bred “black baldy." The Pitchfork has more than a hundred windmills, eighty pastures enclosed by fence, and five thousand cows and bulls. The ranch has never sold an acre in Texas but has slowly expanded from its original 52,500 acres. The Pitchfork is also unlike most ranches in that it is larger today than when it was established, whereas most large ranches have followed the reverse course over the years and sold off acreage.[1] ​ Known for its natural beauty, the ranch is featured in a photographic book Pitchfork Country by its past manager Bob Moorhouse, a member of the ranch board of directors. It is open to the public for hunting and for organized tours.[2]


The Pitchfork is still operated by descendants of its first financial backer, Eugene F. Williams of St. Louis. It is located eighty miles east of Lubbock and thirteen miles west of Guthrie, Texas, on U.S. Highway 82. D. B. Gardner and J. S. Godwin bought the three-pronged pitchfork brand as well as the range lands in 1881. The ranch is therefore still sometimes called “The Forks.” In 1882, Godwin sold his interest to Williams. With the organization of the company, Gardner was named general manager.[3]​ ​

Managers D. B. Gardner and Eugene Williams

In 1871, D. B. Gardner arrived in Texas as a well-educated 21-year-old cowboy. He went on trail drives to Kansas and joined surveying parties for a couple of years to locate land grants authorized to the Texas and Pacific Railway. After working for D. W. and J. S. Godwin as a cowhand and eventually as ranch boss, Gardner became a partner with the brothers in the ranch. D. W. Godwin later withdrew from the partnership, and a new arrangement was formed between Gardner and J. S. Godwin. The pair moved into King and Dickens counties to purchase the Pitchfork brand, cattle, and range rights. Gardner, meanwhile, had become acquainted with Eugene F. Williams, a representative of the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company. Their families had known each other in Alabama, and a warm friendship developed between the two. In 1881, Williams bought J. S. Godwin’s interest in the company to become Gardner’s partner.[4][5]

Unlike most ranches established during the great cattle boom of the 1880s, the Pitchfork over the years survived drought and the depression of cattle prices.[6]

For forty-six years, Gardner augmented and managed the ranch, adding more range land and cattle, fencing the property, and fighting business panics and blizzards. No matter the obstacle, Gardner made the Pitchfork pay an annual dividend. He paid $45 for good bulls, a considerable amount in the early 20th century. Most of his management years were spent at ranch headquarters on the Wichita, where the literary-inclined Gardner established an impressive library. Gardner was married in 1889 to the former Sula Pope Ellison. She lived only two years after the marriage. A son, Sula Gardner, died in Fort Worth in the late 1930s.​[7] ​ At the time of Gardner’s death in June 1929, the Pitchfork had reached a national standard in breeding. Gardner was an officer in the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Fort Worth, and many cattlemen sought out his advice over the years.[7]

Later managers

Gardner served as manager until 1928, a year before his death. The management then passed to O. A. Lambert, 1928–1930; Virgil V. Parr, 1930–1940; Rudolph Swenson, 1940–1942, who was killed by a train; Douglas Burns, who served from 1942 to 1965; Jim Humphreys, the manager from 1965 to 1986; Bob Moorhouse, who served from 1986 to 2007, and Ron Lane (born 1969), Moorhouse's successor who is no longer the ranch manager.[8] In the early 20th century, Pitchfork lands were drilled for petroleum, but at the beginning of the 21st century, the ranch had no income, however from either oil or natural gas. In addition to the cattle, the ranch raises championship quarter horses, having won the 1993 American Quarter Horse Association Remuda competition in Amarillo.[3]

Hermon "Babe" Oliver (1920-2009) worked for the Pitchfork Ranch for forty-two years. In 1960, he was elected as one of the four King County ommissioners, a part-time position which he held until 1976, when he was elected sheriff of King County. In 1984, he was appointed King County administrative county judge, a position which he held until his retirement in 1990. Oliver was born to M. N. and Ada Oliver in Steedman in Pontotoc County in southern Oklahoma. He moved to Texas with his family in 1934 and thereafter was a United States Army veteran of World War II. On February 25, 1945, he married the former Bama Nell Smith (1924–2007) in Paducah in Cottle County, Texas. The Olivers relocated in 1995 to Pampa in Gray County, Texas, and then in August 2007 to Clyde in Callahan County. Oliver was survived by two daughters, Linda and husband, Jimmy Barton, of Clyde and Beth Watson and husband, Randy Watson, of Pampa, and one son, Terry and wife, Linda Oliver, of Dumont in King County. His services were held at the First United Methodist Church in Paducah, Texas. Interment was at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Paducah.[9]​ ​

The Pitchfork today

​ The terrain of the Pitchfork includes mesquite pastures, canyons, cedar, and a few crop fields. It offers its clients have since the late 1990s had access to wild quail hunting, game animals including deer, and wild hogs.[10] The cowboys work the range much as their ancestors did. For much of its history, only the price of cattle and the weather seemed to impact the Pitchfork. Though the ranch has been modernized, its hands still eat at the same table as did the cowboys of 1900. [1]

In 1999, the Pitchfork Ranch won the annual Ranch Award from the American Cowboy Culture Association, which sponsors the annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration held each September in Lubbock, Texas.[11]

In 2008, the Pitchfork was featured on the History Channel. The episode is carried on You Tube.[12]

Ranch cookbook

​ Ranch manager Douglas Burns’ wife, the former Mamie Sypert (1896-1982) published Recipes of a Pitchfork Ranch Hostess: The Culinary Legacy of Mamie Burns. She assumed management of the ranch’s Big House, including the feeding and entertaining of personal and business guests. The recipes and reminiscences in her notes, reproduced in the cookbook, reveal that Mrs. Burns set a bountiful table. Though she claimed not to have enjoyed cooking, her recipes and comments on ranch living reveal a real enthusiasm for preparing food for guests. The book provides not only the ingredients of her special dishes but a glimpse into West Texas ranch life.[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Pitchfork Ranch. The Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company. Retrieved on November 20, 2019.
  2. Big Ranch Country - Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company. theworx.com. Retrieved on November 19, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pitchfork Ranch. Texas State Historical Association: The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved on November 19, 2019.
  4. Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company: Western Heritage Classic. Western Heritage Classic. Retrieved on November 20, 2019.
  5. Pitchfork Land and Title Company: An Inventory of its Records. Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. Retrieved on November 20, 2019.
  6. Tour of historic Pitchfork Ranch Saturday. Cody Enterprise (July 24, 2019). Retrieved on November 20, 2019.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fred Arrington, History of Dickens County; Ranches and Rolling Plains, 1971.
  8. Ron Lane, Dickens, Texas: previous general manager of the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company. corporationwiki.com. Retrieved on November 20, 2019.
  9. Obituary of Hermon "Babe" Oliver. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (February 5, 2009). Retrieved on February 5, 2009; no longer on-line.
  10. Quail hunting, Spring turkey hunting, Trophy whitetail hunts, and more: Hunting on the Legendary Pitchfork Ranch. Mesquite Country Outfielders (Idalou, Texas). Retrieved on November 20, 2019.
  11. Cox Cowboy life rides high at awards show: Symposium saddles up with tribute to heritage. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (September 10, 1999). Retrieved on September 5, 2013; no longer on-line.
  12. Pitchfork Ranch featured on History Channel. You Tube (January 24, 2008). Retrieved on November 25, 2019.
  13. Cathryn Buesseler and L. E. Anderson, eds., Mamie Burns: Recipes of a Pitchfork Ranch Hostess: The Culinary Legacy of Mamie Burns.

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